See–Feel–Change

I’m still thinking about change.

About how we understand it. In order to spark it.

Even though we can never really control it.

I find that these inquiries lead me to rely more than usual on the ‘social-worky’ side of my self, since a lot of what leads people to change depends, to a great extent, on how they connect–to the people in the movement, to the cause, to their own hopes and dreams.

It’s really, really not about the cookies.

One part of Switch that fascinates me is the discussion about the psychological studies of how people make decisions.

See, the way they describe it, we all think that we’re “analyze–think–change” types. In the policy world, too, policymakers always tell us they want more data. But when do they listen the most attentively? When someone tells them a story.

Because they, like us, are really more “see–feel–change”. We respond best to what hits us in our gut, to what we see vividly from a reference of our own experience, to what moves us emotionally even when our brains may not be ready to go anywhere.

This isn’t the same thing as relying on fear or anger or other somewhat negative emotions to catalyze action. We can feel empathy and hope and excitement just as powerfully, and the evidence suggests that they can spark change just as surely.

And it goes without saying that our thinking isn’t totally marginalized in the process. What we feel is shaped in part by what we believe, which is the culmination of many thoughts we’ve had, that becomes our way of seeing the world.

But this see–feel–change process does point us in a different direction, for our policy communication efforts, than we often believe would be most effective. It suggests that the stories that we tell are even more important than the data that we amass, and that wanting people to know something is not, at its core, the same as wanting them to do something.

Here’s what I think it means, for how we talk with people about the problems we face and the policy solutions they demand. And, perhaps even more importantly than how we talk with people, here’s what I think it means for how we show people what’s going on in our community and why they are an essential part of those same solutions.

  • We can’t be so afraid to get people upset. I mean, sure, not instantly alienating our policy targets is always a good idea. But we need people to be somewhat agitated, if we’re going to get them to action. So when things are raw, we can’t be afraid of that.
  • We need to think creatively about what people need to see, and the kinds of emotions we want to prompt. Remember the piles of shoes from Auschwitz? And the way you feel when you see them? Obviously our problems today are not on that scale, but there are still vivid visuals that tell our stories, and we need to bring them into the communication.
  • We need to acknowledge our own emotions. We can’t expect to move people to action, through their felt response, if we are analytical robots who deny the ways in which we’ve been moved to this work. That means telling our story, too, and, when we’re angry or sad, saying it.
  • We need to acknowledge what we don’t know, or can’t yet understand. Sometimes we are so afraid to admit any weakness that we have to pretend that we’ve answered every question, when the truth is that we’re just figuring out what to ask. But we know how we feel, and why it’s not OK, and that has moved us to do something about it. We need to create spaces for others to accept the limits of their analysis, too, and to take the first step anyway.

When have you been moved to act, in the advocacy arena, based on how you felt about what someone helped you to see? Or, perhaps more importantly, can you remember when a piece of data, or some analytical conclusion you reached, is what prompted your advocacy?

We don’t make pro and con lists for most of the biggest decisions in our lives. It’s the same with trying to right a wrong.

We see.

We feel.

And we do.

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